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When The Canine Comes: Temporary Detention Is Unconstitutional

police dog

The use of dogs in law enforcement became widespread in the United States during the 1970s. Since then, they have become one of the primary tools police officers use to detect illegal substances such as marijuana, methamphetamines, and opiates.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that the way police departments sometimes used their canines was unconstitutional. More specifically, the court ruled that police officers are not allowed to hold a suspect without cause while they wait for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive - even if it is just for a few extra minutes.

In her ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures." She further explained that the "authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed."

The ruling stemmed from an incident involving a Nebraska man who was pulled over on the highway for driving on the shoulder. The officer on the scene then ran the man's license, issued him a warning for erratic driving, and asked if he could use a drug-sniffing dog to search the vehicle.

When the driver refused the officer's request, he was immediately detained for a period of approximately seven or eight minutes. At that time, a backup officer arrived on the scene and the driver's vehicle was searched by the dog. During the search, the dog discovered methamphetamine and the driver was arrested on a possession charge.

Per the Supreme Court, the drug search was illegal and the evidence discovered by the dog is not admissible in a court of law. In the eyes of the law, the traffic stop was concluded when the officer issued the driver a warning, asked if a search was permitted, and was denied. Everything that occurred after that point could be classified as an "unreasonable seizure."

Here at Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, we have been helping the people of Maryland defend their Constitutional rights for more than 50 years. If you need our help, simply give us a call at (410) 927-5137 to arrange a consultation with one of our defense attorneys.